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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Policy News: Vol. 3, Issue 17

Top stories for May 4, 2011

DU lauds process to restore wetlands protections critical to waterfowl

Recently, the Administration initiated steps to restore Clean Water Act protections to many wetlands and streams. The guidance was unveiled last week and serves as an encouraging action because the Clean Water Act is critically important to both waterfowl populations and waterfowl habitats across the nation. In addition to recreational opportunities these areas provide for hunters, anglers and other wildlife enthusiasts, an estimated 117 million Americans also depend on streams for drinking water. Many millions more, including farmers and ranchers, benefit from the groundwater wetlands recharge and the flood protection they provide.

"The Clean Water Act has been a critical safety net for our nation's wetlands," former DU President John Tomke said from Milwaukee, Wis., during the press conference where the guidance was released. "It is critical that the CWA continue to provide those protections to the fullest extent possible, while remaining consistent with the law and the rulings of the courts." 

Ducks Unlimited has long supported the needs of waterfowl and sportsmen, and therefore supports the initiation of an open, transparent process by which long-standing CWA protections can be restored to wetlands important to waterfowl. This process began with the release of draft regulatory guidance. The draft guidance seeks to more clearly define which U.S. waters are subject to CWA protections. The guidance is open to comment from the public for two months.

"We are very encouraged to see the release of this draft guidance and support the agencies' efforts to restore CWA protections," Dale Hall, DU's CEO, said. "While we have not thoroughly analyzed it—yet, we are hopeful the draft guidance will go a long way toward reducing confusion about Clean Water Act administration. Administrative guidance is needed in order to restore protections to many wetlands." These wetland areas include prairie potholes, which are important for maintaining waterfowl populations and the traditions associated with them throughout North America.

Hall also emphasized it would be important for the guidance to retain existing exemptions for agriculture and forestry. He said the guidance simply clarifies regulations that already exist and, importantly, does not add additional regulations.

DU's specific interests center on wetlands that lie in landscapes particularly important for waterfowl during the breeding season, migration and on the wintering grounds. "Unless adequate protection of many of the nation's wetlands, streams, lakes and headwaters is restored, wetlands and waterfowl will remain threatened," DU Chief Biologist Dale Humburg, said. "Wetlands are important to waterfowl, but they are also important to those who care about waterfowl, including duck and goose hunters and the millions more who appreciate the spectacle of migration. Without abundant and healthy wetlands, there will not be plentiful waterfowl."

The confusion regarding the extent of CWA protections resulted from the decisions of two U.S. Supreme Court cases, SWANCC (2001) and Rapanos (2006). Together, these decisions removed protections for as much as 20 million acres of wetlands, particularly prairie potholes and other seasonal wetlands essential to waterfowl populations. Geographically isolated wetlands in the Prairie Pothole Region are currently without clear rules that ensure their protection, and since the majority of breeding ducks in the United States come from the Prairie Pothole Region, the habitats for millions of waterfowl may not have CWA protection.

"A team of DU science and policy specialists will analyze the guidance," Hall said. "We will actively support elements of the guidance that restore CWA protections that had existed for decades prior to the SWANCC decision and that are consistent with the findings of the Court. We will also provide science-based comments to further achieve that objective. We applaud the agencies for taking this step and encourage them to initiate a rulemaking as quickly as possible to foster a public process that eliminates confusion and restores protection to wetlands that are most important to waterfowl."

Learn more about Clean Water Act policy issues. 

U.S. Secretary of Interior Salazar Meets with DU in Pothole Country

Ducks Unlimited recently had the opportunity to discuss America's disappearing native prairie with U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar during his visit to South Dakota late last week. Salazar met with DU and other conservation partners to talk about the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area that would bring more dollars to retaining grassland through conservation easements on private land. 

"This project will conserve our vanishing prairie for wildlife, ranchers and the general public," said Dr. Jim Ringelman, DU director of conservation programs for North and South Dakota. "It keeps the land in private ownership, using voluntary easements while maintaining farmland used for grazing and haying."

Ringelman explained, with a waiting list of more than 600 willing private landowners in the Dakotas, there is no shortage of interest in ranchers wanting to sell conservation easements. "The real limiting factor is the funding," he said. "The Dakota Grassland Conservation Area designation would bring us closer to enrolling more of those who have applied."

During his visit, Salazar stated the Dakota Grassland Conservation Area would build a new national model for the protection of working agricultural landscapes while benefiting wildlife. He applauded DU's commitment to invest $50 million during 10 years for easements under the Dakota Grassland initiative. "If there are any examples of commitment to the Dakota grasslands, it is the fact that Ducks Unlimited would put $50 million on the table for that," Salazar said. 

Ringelman also emphasized how the native prairie and wetlands help South Dakota's economy with beef production and tourism dependent on these two resources. "Cattle producers are critical to protecting the prairie landscape," he said. "Cows need the same thing waterfowl do – grass and water."

Salazar spent the afternoon at Jim Faltstich's ranch near Highmore, S.D. "It's a real privilege to have Secretary Salazar in South Dakota and be able to have a number of ranchers visit with him about the importance of native grassland," Falstich said. "When these grasslands are properly managed, the concerns of everyone involved are addressed, whether it's profitability of the rancher, wildlife or environmental issues such as water."

The Dakota Grassland Conservation Area would be funded with dollars Congress dedicated to conservation if they support it. Under the proposal, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will seek to acquire easements from willing sellers on approximately two million acres of native prairie habitat to benefit wildlife and support traditional economic activities, specifically livestock production.

DU's work in Wisconsin praised by Congressman Tom Petri 

DU received praise from U.S. Rep. Tom Petri (WI) after being awarded a $1 million North American Wetlands Conservation Act grant to protect, restore and enhance 1,836 acres of wetlands and associated habitats in several counties in southeast Wisconsin. The grant, which will be used under the Southeast Wisconsin Coastal Habitat Initiative, will build on four previous phases of successful wetland conservation efforts.  

Ducks Unlimited's years of conservation efforts in the state of Wisconsin have not gone unnoticed by Congressman Petri, who recognized the importance of DU's work in the area. "Ducks Unlimited is making a real difference in eastern Wisconsin. This multi-phase project conserves wetlands that serve as habitat for waterfowl and fish, provides recreation areas for people, and keeps our drinking water safe and guarding against flooding. I commend Ducks Unlimited for their leadership. They understand that productive wetlands provide an invaluable contribution to our environment, our economy, and our quality of life," Petri said.

The SWCHI is a multi-year landscape-scale effort to help meet the habitat objects for the Lake Michigan and Green Bay watersheds. "The habitat protected and restored through this work will provide critical breeding areas for waterfowl and other grassland nesting birds," saidDucks Unlimited Regional Biologist Jason Hill. "This work will also provide habitat for species of concern and endangered or threatened species, increase recreational opportunities, improve water quality in the Green Bay and coastal Lake Michigan watersheds and aid flood control and erosion over the long-term." 

Since the first phase of this project, $3.4 million of NAWCA funds have been utilized to generate more than $13 million in matching funds from state and private organizations. Those funds go to local contractors to generate jobs as well as important habitat where Wisconsin citizens can hunt, fish and watch wildlife. 

"This latest grant award is yet another example of how NAWCA provides immediate, on-the-ground action for crucial wetlands conservation efforts while also helping improve local economies," said Kristin Schrader, public affairs coordinator for the Great Lakes/Atlantic Regional Office of DU. 

Wisconsin has 58 NAWCA projects either completed or underway. These projects have conserved 119,890 acres of wildlife habitat. NAWCA funding of more than $27 million stimulated partner contributions of more than $85.9 million. In the United States, NAWCA expenditures have created, on average, nearly 3,800 new jobs annually and generated nearly $840 million in worker earnings each year.

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